Many people live in older buildings that weren’t built with green principles in mind…
But even if you don’t have a structure built green from the ground up, you can still do a green retrofit on your current house. Here are 10 steps, which are all guided by one principle: “Work with what you’ve got.” If going green feels overwhelming, start with one or two of these. Then create a plan where you set goals to implement more green elements later down the road.
1. Go solar
The cost of solar panels can be overwhelming if you aim to get all of your energy needs from solar. However, you can start smaller and then build up. To make solar more affordable, choose to have only 20 to 30 percent of your energy needs covered. You can always add more solar panels in the years to come. The federal government offers a tax credit (good through 2016) when you install solar on your residence. Check with your city government for local rebates. Ask your tax professional for more information on how you can save with a solar install.
2. Purchase energy-efficient appliances
Using less energy allows you to get more bang for your buck from solar panels. Check with your city to see if rebates are available when you replace your current appliances with energy-efficient models.
Consider green appliances when it’s time to replace your older models. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)
3. Create a permaculture site map
Permaculture is about designing areas that don’t require a lot of care or time to maintain and designing the landscape with energy-efficiency in mind. Hire a landscaper with permaculture design training or take a permaculture design course yourself. Doing so will change the way you think about energy use, building design and plants.
4. Choose plants wisely
Plants can be both beautiful and useful. You don’t have to have a green thumb to plant. If you choose native variety plants, they will require very little care and attention because they will already be genetically durable and acclimated to your particular region. A landscaper with a permaculture certificate will be able to help you choose which plants are native to your area and low-maintenance.
5. Install permeable pavers
Replace your old cement driveway or parking lot with permeable pavers. Doing this will not only beautify your landscape, but it will also reduce runoff into storm drains and reduce the load on your local water treatment agency.
Permeable pavers are made of layers of concrete pavers that have joints filled with tiny stones. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Monique B. of Portsmouth, Rhode Island)
6. Plant your parking strip
If you live in the city, you probably have a parking strip between the road and the sidewalk. Many cities will allow you to plant this strip with a variety of drought-tolerant, pollinator-attracting plants. Planting your parking strip can be a fun, civic-minded work party or community-building summer project.
Make sure your city allows it before installing plants in public spaces. (Photo by Robert Mang)
7. Save water
Catch your rainwater, and install low-water toilets to save water. A rain barrel provides water suitable for most outdoor uses, including watering your flowers, washing the car and giving your pets a bath.
CHECK OUT: How to Make a Rain Barrel
8. Build a rain garden
A rain garden is simply a landscaped, shallow depression in the ground that contains specific soil mixes and plants. When installed correctly, it will collect, absorb and filter rainwater rather than allow the rainwater to go down the storm drain.
9. Implement a laundry-to-landscape system
This allows you to direct the water that comes from your washer into your backyard safely. This reduces the need to water plants with fresh hose water. Check with your city first to see if this is allowed.
10. Welcome the chickens
Hens are a great way to entertain your family. While they are easy to care for, don’t take this decision lightly. Conduct plenty of research before building a coop. Hens help till the soil and their waste provides the soil with beneficial nutrients. Plus, you’ll be supplied with a steady stream of fresh eggs.